‘No amount of campaign rhetoric can change where we actually stand - which is firmly on the side of saving money and cutting costs all along the way while getting this project done for our residents.’

As our Council and Administration try to get the Municipal Complex project we inherited finished, it’s unfortunate that political candidates are already promulgating misleading and misinformed assertions. We are writing in response to recent letters from a new political candidate and a member of the Republican Municipal Committee.  

It’s important to know how we got to this point, and where responsibility lies for getting us there.  None of us signing this letter want this Municipal Complex project to be delayed any longer than necessary. None of us voted for any of the decisions that saw this project explode in cost and complexity, from $17 million in 2016 to $32 million (and more) today. Nor did we vote to remove $2 million for contaminated soil and then bond for an additional $4 million, breaking previous promises on holding down costs and increasing the project cost to $32 million. 

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When our Township professionals recommended budgeting a contingency of $3 million, due to incomplete bidding plans and circumstances that might crop up, such as contaminated soil, none of us voted to slash that contingency budget to $700,000.  

It was these decisions in 2016, 2017 and 2018 - this mismanagement of taxpayer dollars on one of the most critical projects our Town government has undertaken in recent memory - that have brought us to today.

Let’s review the facts: 

  • This project never had enough money in it to pay for as much bad soil as was encountered on the job. Our Township professionals recommended a contingency of $3 million, due to incomplete bidding plans and issues that might crop up - such as contaminated soil. The Council at the time voted to slash that contingency budget to $754,000.

  • The salt dome phase, which began in August 2018, took much longer than anticipated because once excavation began for the salt dome and the surrounding area, unsuitable soils, buried debris, and garbage were quickly encountered, which needed to be handled appropriately.  

  • At approximately the same time, the first deposit of asbestos-containing materials (ACM) was discovered buried within the new Municipal Building footprint. An underground deposit of hydrocarbons (petroleum materials) was also discovered in the building footprint in February 2019, followed by a second deposit of ACM which was uncovered during foundation excavations in April 2019.  

  • Langan Engineering supervised NJDEP-compliant remediation and export of the materials and affected soils.  This was all subsequent to the January 2019 discovery and removal by a certified environmental firm of a leaking oil tank under the former Recreation Department offices on the project site.  Overall, the site is not ideal due to its use as a dumping ground in Berkeley Heights. Washing machines, oil tanks and other debris have been found throughout the site. 

  • During excavation and the construction of foundations, water was observed in some areas of the basement elevations and, out of an abundance of precaution, a decision was made to install an underground drainage system so the building would not later develop a water condition that would only be more costly to remedy. No underground drainage system was included in the original plans, despite Berkeley Heights being notoriously wet. This caused additional delays and cost. Additional owner-driven changes, such as lowering the building for aesthetic purposes (2018) and modifying the elevator to accommodate a stretcher, also added time. 

  • All along the way, these delays and added costs were known and grudgingly accepted by the entire governing body. Per the contract, neither the owner (Township) nor the project manager (Mast) can dictate means and methods of how to build the building. 

There is no “additional delay” into 2021 supported by anyone on the Council. No amount of campaign rhetoric can change where we actually stand - which is firmly on the side of saving money and cutting costs all along the way while getting this project done for our residents. Some cost-cutting measures we have supported include:

  • Negotiating a formal shared services agreement on use of the Salt Dome that lowers Berkeley Heights debt burden by $1.073M over 20 years

  • Supporting a change order crediting the Township with more than $50,000 by eliminating expensive millwork for benches in Council chambers.

  • Moving more than $200,000 from the more than $1 million IT/AV budget to help pay for unsuitable soils. 

  • Negotiations to reimburse the Township’s contingency on Library portion of the Municipal Complex - $45,000 saved  

  • Reducing the daily role of some professionals on the project to pay them only as/when their expertise is needed. 

Meanwhile, our construction managers, Mast, have negotiated savings of more than $1.3 million in change order costs. 

The residents of Berkeley Heights want honesty from their candidates and not misinformation to further their own agenda. In our opinion, it was partially due to public anger over the mismanagement of the Municipal Complex project that we and Mayor Devanney were elected. We will continue to work with our experts to see this project completed with as little additional cost to our taxpayers as possible. This is what we were elected to do.